Graham Parker - British Soul, Rhythm and Blues Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Graham Parker - British Soul, Rhythm and Blues

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Graham Parker - honest (probably to a fault), emotional, and afflicted with the English disease of sarcasm as an appropriate response to the inability of the rest of the world to understand the blindingly obvious but tempered by a romantic streak a mile wide.

In the Beginning

Born on 15 November, 1950, in East London, Parker followed a typical career path for many musicians, mostly involving a bunch of dead-end jobs while playing in bands now long since forgotten.

In the early 1970s, pub rock stood somewhere between the stadium rock excesses of the 'Pink Floyd - Yes - King Crimson' axis and the beginnings of Punk. Among the more famous luminaries of the scene were: Kilburn and the High Roads (later to become Ian Dury and the Blockheads), Doctor Feelgood and Nick Lowe. Among the less famous: The Kursaal Flyers, Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers and The Motors. As the scene collapsed, Graham Parker fell into the clutches of Dave Robinson, the nascent genius behind Stiff Records, and from the ashes of Brinsley Schwarz, Ducks Deluxe and Bontemps Roulez, Graham Parker and the Rumour1 was formed.

After hearing the demos produced at Dave Robinson's studio over the Hope and Anchor2, his cause was championed by Charlie Gillett, a DJ with a show called Honky Tonk on BBC Radio London which led to a record contract with Mercury and a pair of albums, Howling Wind and Heat Treatment released to pretty near universal acclaim. Despite this critical acclaim and strong word of mouth backing from a good-sized core of devotees, somehow the big-time eluded Parker.

Mercury Poisoning

Stick to me and The Parkerilla (a double live-set) were released and led to a falling out with Mercury records, apparently over distribution and promotion and presaged Parker's prickly relations with record companies. His parting shot, Mercury Poisoning, perhaps could have been a salutary warning to the likes of George Michael and others who have had 'difficulties' with their record company.

I gotta dinosaur for a representative
It's got a small brain and refuses to learn
Their promotion's so lame
They could never ever take it to the real ball game

Yeah, the best kept secret in the West, The best kept secret in the West

This was not calculated to make Mercury happy, but worrying about record companies (or anyone else for that matter), has rarely seemed high on his priority list. Graham Parker swapped labels five times in the next ten years, and his career to date has involved stays with at least ten different record companies!

In 1979 he released what was to prove to be his most popular album Squeezing Out Sparks, garnering 5-star reviews and selling over 200,000 copies in America and featuring hit-single Local Girls. It showcased an aggressive R'n'B backing to lyrics flavoured with paranoia, isolation, failure to communicate and nostalgia for a non-existent past.

He followed up in 1980 with the The Up Escalator, produced by Jimmy Iovine - a rather slicker affair than its predecessor, which perhaps didn't help its cause. Punk was raging and harder-edged artists such as Elvis Costello in England and Bruce Springsteen in the USA were eating into his market. The Rumour had already started a separate career so Graham formally departed to work both solo and with miscellaneous backing bands.

A series of albums followed with a variety of backing bands, Another Grey Area, The Real Macaw, Steady Nerves, culminating in what was widely regarded as a comeback album The Mona Lisa's Sister. This spent 19 weeks on the charts but was to prove a false dawn and was the last time he cracked the US top 100 list.

After the release of 1993's anthology Passion Is No Ordinary Word, Parker moved between a variety of independent labels ending up at Razor & Tie where he released 12 Haunted Episodes which Parker himself has said he regards as his best work.

Two albums followed in 1996, Live From New York, NY and Acid Bubblegum, which marked a return to the more aggressive style of earlier recordings. In 1997, he released the double live album The Last Rock N' Roll Tour which was recorded with the Saratoga power-pop outfit the Figgs.

Where to Next?

After a brief hiatus during which he published Carp fishing on Valium3, a collection of loosely linked short stories following the life of a British rock musician called Brian Porker, he released Deepcut to Nowhere in 2001 - unlikely to win any converts but with everything that a Graham Parker fan would require.

Sarcastic, inquiring, witty and above all else honest, an all-around good geezer and well worth checking out.

1The band consisted of Brinsley Schwarz (guitar), Bob Andrews (keyboards), Martin Belmont (guitar), Andrew Bodnar (bass) and Steve Goulding (drums).2As an aside for trivia fans, the first venue U2 played in outside of Ireland. It's on Upper St, Islington, London.3His first novel, The Great Trouser Mystery, appeared in 1980, and a second novel, The Thylacine's Nest, is due for publication at the time of writing.

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